Into the Dragon’s Death Room
The Jade Dragon Benevolent Society building had been constructed as a bank in the late eighteen sixties and after the stock market crash of nineteen twenty-nine had been taken over by the Tong as its permanent headquarters.
The impressive structure was a granite exterior, three story building in a Greek revival style reached by low wide steps. It was a massive building that dominated all those around it and stood, separated by narrow alleys, alone on the corner of Lisplanarde Street. It was a full story taller than the shops around it.
Tong guards stood very obtrusively out front for all the city to see as the summoned mourners for Wo Ping filed into the building through the Doric columns of its façade. The public was guided into the main rotunda of the former financial temple on a pilgrimage more of fear than respect. Word traveled quickly that one of the Tong lords had died suddenly. The knowledge of exactly how the Honorable Wo Ping had passed into the company of his ancestors was kept secret.
Attendance at the viewing was a necessary show of respect that all the businessmen and their families processed before his displayed body that would be cremated the next day for his final rest. It was also necessary to be seen doing attending and those that did not attend were noted and would feel consequences. Li Fong and Leo Chung stood formally beside their fallen brother, dressed in their somber finest to be seen as the powers to cow tow to.
All the pilgrims were downcast in their gaze, perhaps recognizing that an era of the Tong has passed with the death of the tradition bound Wo Ping and that things would be different now.
It was good fortune for the granite man that no one looked up from the body to cast an eye toward the skylight above. If they had, they might have seen a dim figure in dark matte grey that moved like a ghost across the building tops.
Dr. Shadows made his way first to the roof of a building beside the Tong hall and moved unobtrusively to the edge. He gave a quick glance below and assessed the ten-foot distance to the wall of the hall. Moving back to get a running start, he leapt from the two-story cobbler shop to the side of the Jade Dragon building. He managed to grab hold of the raised stone cornice stones of the former bank with only his fingertips. His fingers gripped the stone edges with steel clawed strength as if they were climbing tools.
He clung to the stones, two stories above an alley, like a grey gargoyle, truly a man of granite. Dr. Shadows’ features were darkened by soot so no part of him would show in the moonlight. He melted completely one with the shadows.
He was above the alley that separated the Tong hall from the shoemakers building while guards patrolled below. It was the reason he had opted not to use a grappling hook to climb directly to the roof, the possibility of noise from the hook and the immediate and deadly response that would follow from the Tong guards.
The granite man’s steel sinewy fingertips were wrapped with surgical tape to give more traction and he wore dark moccasins instead of his usual gum soled shoes for better purchase in the climb. He moved slowly, not from the difficulty of the climb, (though few could have made it without climbing equipment) but for the need for stealth. The shin gong techniques that he learned in the Wei Monastery in Korea dictated he move with such controlled movements that even if a guard glanced up, his movements would not draw the eye. It was part of a range of techniques of the martial arts form Sulsa Do that allowed him to move like a grey ghost. Along with the physical techniques it was his enormous powers of concentration were what made him such a dangerous enemy of evil.
He made it to the roof of the bank in ten minutes but was slow in topping the edge as a precaution. It was a justified caution as there were guards in place near the front of the building
They are on a full war footing, he thought, but fortunately looking in the wrong direction.
Indeed, the guards were watching the crowd out front for signs of trouble and held rifles in case things got out of hand. Dr. Shadows eased onto the roof and moved like a salamander on his fingertips and toes. His progress was as silent as a thought across the coarse gravel of the roof. He finally reached the edge of the skylight that was over the rotunda. He chanced a look below and could see the crowd filing slowly past the corpse.
The granite man moved further back toward the back edge of the roof, away from the guards and deeper into the shadows to a roof hatch that the plans he had studied showed would gain him entrance to an airshaft.
The roof hatch itself was solidly closed so he had to force a pry-bar he had brought for the purpose under the lid. Stealth still dictated a slow process, but in not too much time he was able to open the hatch. He secured a woven silk rope to a metal chimney pipe then slowly slipped over the edge, unseen by the otherwise occupied guards.
The airshaft, as his research at City Hall’s file room had shown, was a two-foot square flue that ran down the back spine of the building and would take Dr. Shadows directly to the sanctum room where the murder had occurred. The difficulty he had in prying the hatch open answered the first one of his questions about the murder method—the killer could not have descended the shaft as he was doing.
Dr. Shadows had knotted the silk rope at intervals that enabled him to calculate when he was at the right height in the shaft to put him behind one of the wooden panels of the conference room. His head was at a height with the small louvered vent that let air into the room. The vent was some eight feet from the floor of the room. The space below was quiet and dark, the door across the room closed securely.
The granite man placed his foot in a loop in the rope and used his pry-bar to gently loosen the vent. He then lowered it to the floor on a thin line and set about trying to squeeze his broad shouldered bulk through the small opening. It was a painful and slow process and he was very well aware that if anyone entered the room, he would be completely exposed and an easy, helpless target.
A full half hour of wriggling and sweating followed, and then Dr. Shadows stood on the carpeted floor of the conference room. He raced to the door with its cracked doorframe and opened it a sliver to peek out. He could see the backs of several Tong hatchet men who were facing the processing crowd. He could see Leo Chung and the implacable Li Fong standing on a raised platform surveying all.
You Tong lords sure are playing this up to reaffirm your power in the community, the granite man thought, and getting rid of Hank gives the average community member one less person to turn to for help so there’s maybe some motive. He closed the door, locked it from the inside, and set about his investigation.
He produced a chemically powered flashlight that cast a pale green beam and went over the spot where the body had lain. He examined the rug and chair, not really expecting to find anything but in the interests of being thorough. He found nothing, but looking at the angle of the chair did reconfirm that the bullet did not come from the airshaft because the angle was all wrong for that entry wound.
Next the granite man examined the wall that the bullet might have come from. The wall was hung with photos of the council members. “Oh you were a wild one, eh, Li Fong,” he said in a whisper as he saw, among other photos pictures of the old doctor when he was a young man in a theatrical company, doing Chinese Opera in Shanghai. There were also photos of a younger Leo Chung with his late father, a former council member and marital arts master. So you did inherit the ‘family business, Dr. Shadows thought. There were many pictures of Wo Ping and Li Fong with dignitaries and a slightly younger Li Fong standing with a figure that Dr. Shadows recognized as a young Chang Kai Shek.
You do rub shoulders with the greats, the granite man thought, but that gets me no nearer to clearing Hank.
He set to knocking on the wall of the room and listening carefully for any hint of a secret panel or passageway. He covered the entire wall from corner to corner of the room and from the floor to over his six foot six height.
Nothing, he thought confirming what the building’s original plans had said. No hollows. He tried once more in great detail to “knock the wall” hoping he had missed a particularly thick panel over a hidden passage or room, but when he had finished, his conclusion was still the same.
Then that fixes it, he thought. Now I know who killed Wo Ping. He moved to the door of the room and, after listening for a moment, opened it again to view the proceedings in the main hall. It was fortuitous that he did, for it was at that moment that the hatchet men dragged in the bound and gagged figures of Hank and Chelsea Forrest!
Trial by Fire
Hank spent the longest day of her life waiting impatiently for some news in Chelsea’s room at the Evangeline Residence. She fought the urge to peer out the window every five minutes, only occasionally peeking from behind the shade, fearful to see a Han face.
Chelsea came home as usual at dinnertime, bringing a meal from a local diner with her as if it were her usual routine. Hank tore into the burger and fries ravenously, suddenly aware how hungry her constant state of tension had made her.
“I heard from Anton through Hoon when he came back from downtown,” Chelsea said while the Chinese ate. “First off, he wanted me to tell you that he believes in you and will see this thing to the end so you should not worry.”
Hank found herself unable to continue eating for a moment fighting the building emotion within her.
“Secondly, he wanted me to get this to you,” Chelsea handed a stack of greenbacks “for you to use since he knows it’s too dangerous for you to go home just yet. He figured between you and me, we could devise a sneaky plan to get you out of the city until he can unravel this whole mess.”
Hank looked at her with astonishment. “I know from experience that once Anton sets himself to a task in the name of justice, he’s never failed.” Her voice trembled. “I just keep praying I am not his very first failure.”
“Gotta watch that kind of talk,” Chelsea said with a smile. “Anton’s not going to let them put you to the stake for this.”
Hank nodded, her face assumed a puzzled expression. “Speaking of fire, do you smell smoke?”
Chelsea looked at her curiously and then sniffed the air. “Yes, now that you mention it,” she said with concern, “I do smell something.”
She ran to the door and after feeling it to see if it was warm opened it a crack. “Yes, it is real,” she repeated. “Grab a coat. I see smoke down the hall.” The auburn haired woman grabbed her own coat, checking that her holstered pistol was in place and headed out into the hall. She began banging on the doors along thehall and yelling “Fire! Get out. Fire!”
Hank was beside her in a moment and the two women yelled and banged on all the doors on the floor. Doors exploded with confused and excited women emerging, and there was suddnely a babble of confused voices.
“Everyone down the stairs,” Chelsea ordered in a clear, loud voice. “Have the front desk call the fire department.” The women moved to comply even as the smoke became thicker in the hallway.
“We have to alert the floors below,” Chelsea said. Hank agreed and the two of them joined the women fleeing through the exit doorway and down the stairs. On the next floor the two friends repeated the process of yelling and banging.
The two women did the same thing on each of the other eleven floors though the smoke was thicker and the commotion that had been raised meant many were pre-warned.
The two women were exhausted by the time they raced out the first floor stairwell door into the smoke filled lobby. They were coughing from the smoke they had inhaled so headed outside into the cold night air.
Outside there where dozens of young ladies huddled watching the their home burn and cheered the fire engines that screeched up to the front of the residence and the firemen who raced into the building.
“This being out in the open is not a good thing,” Chelsea said after the two of the friend got their breaths back. “Let’s get over to Lexington and grab a cab up to Grand Central. We can get a train out of town to hide out upstate.” Hank and Chelsea moved to the edge of the crowd and slipped through the milling throng to the corner of Irving Place.
That’s when Chelsea saw the first Chinese face.
It was a hard face, recognizably a thug’s face in any race, and it was focused at the two women, not chaos or the fire engines.
“They’re here,” she whispered to Hank. “I bet they set the fire to smoke us out.” At that moment a second Han countenance appeared in the crowd and the two men moved toward the women with focus.
The two friends veered back toward the wrought-iron fence that circled the vest pocket Gramercy Park. They were at the rear of the crowd that was watching the fire and response and moved along the fence toward the east side of the park. They stopped suddenly when yet another Tong member appeared in the Caucasian and black faces ahead of them.
The hatchet man reached for Chelsea and the woman dodged the grab. She delivered a perfect left jab to the startled man’s nose. When he jerked his head back in shock, instinctively closing his eyes, she laid him out with an on-the-money right cross, courtesy of Slugger Harris’ ring tutelage.
Hank grabbed Chelsea’s arm and the two women raced past the fallen Chinese almost before he hit the ground. The two hatchet men in the crowd behind them pushed forward. Soon it was a foot race toward Lexington Avenue with the two Tong men in hot pursuit.
“We have to get a cab on the avenue,” Chelsea yelled over her shoulder to the slower Hank. “We can call Hoon from the train station.” The two ran through the crowd of the curious who were pouring out of the nearby buildings to watch the firefighters.
Hank and Chelsea had almost reached the avenue when three more of the Tong members suddenly appeared in their path. Chelsea went for her gun but never cleared the holster, because another of the Tong men burst out of the crowd. He blindsided her with a two handed punch to her back. The brunette was sent sprawling, her gun skittering across the sidewalk.
Hank high kicked the man in the back of the head when he tried to tie Chelsea’s hands and sent him flat on his face. She pulled her own revolver at the same time reaching down to help pull her friend to her feet.
Two more hatchet men tackled Hank with a third man violently yanking the gun from her hand. A dark sedan screeched to the curb. Before either woman could even voice a cry for help, they were bundled into the car by the swarm of Tong men and the car sped off.
No one saw the actions with all the crowd’s attention focused on the fire scene.
The getaway car wove in and out of downtown traffic while three Tong men in the back seat bound and gagged the two struggling women.
Chelsea made eye contact with Hank and the fear she saw in the woman made her realize how very serious the situation was. If the Tong men were just carrying out a sentence that had already been passed, it could be a one-way ride.
She looked into the eyes of the three men and a chill ran down her spine. There was not a modicum of compassion in their eyes, and something more. She saw an anger reflected in the their depths and in the down turn of their lips when they glanced at Hank.
“I messed this one up good,” Chelsea thought. “Sorry Hank. Sorry Anton, I failed the one that really mattered.”
The car made its way downtown, eventually moving toward Chinatown.
“Maybe they’re not taking us to dump our bodies in Brooklyn,” Chelsea concluded. “Maybe we’ll have a little time to figure a way out of this.”
The car pulled up in front of a massive granite structure and the two women were hustled out through a startled crowd of Chinese faces.
“Now you pay for crime,” one of the Tong men said to a grimacing Hank in heavily accented English that was for Chelsea’s benefit. “Your friend she pay, too.”
The gang of thugs dragged the women up the stairs and through two huge bronze doors. They were pulled roughly through a gawking crowd in the foyer of the building. The whole affair was in eerie silence with not even a gasp of shock from the crowd of onlookers.
In the central rotunda of the Jade Dragon Hall, in front of the displayed corpse of Wo Ping, Chelsea and Hank were forced to their knees before Li Fong and Leo Chung.
“Behold the murderer of your beloved Wo Ping,” Li Fong proclaimed to the assembled community with a dramatic sweep of his cane. “And behold as well how the justice of the Jade Dragon Society is delivered to all who would oppose our power.”
With a wave of his cane two of the hatchet men stepped forward, each holding a long, menacing broad single edged sword. They took up positions standing beside each of the women.
Chelsea looked over at Hank, who returned her gaze with a steely expression. All the fear and terror was gone and the Chinese woman seemed to have accepted the inevitable. The brunette took her cue from her friend and decided to not give the satisfaction to the Tong men of seeing her cringe. She squared her shoulders back and adopted a defiant posture.
The two Ton men raised the blades high above their heads in preparation to carry out the ‘justice of the Tong’ their eyes fixed on their two leaders.
Leo Chung had a smirk on his face. He looked to Li Fong who nodded and then raised his hand. The muscles of his arm tensed in preparation to drop and end the women’s lives.
“Give that order to kill them and you will be committing a bigger crime than the murder of Wo Ping,” Dr. Shadows said in Cantonese as he stepped through the crowd. “And you will have to deal with my justice.”
Prisoners of Honor
The Tong guards, knives drawn, swarmed through the onlookers to surround the granite man.
Dr. Shadows kept his chiseled, now soot-less, features calm. “To all the assembled here,” the grey Goliath began in booming Cantonese, “I tell you Lee Han Ku did not murder the Honorable Wo Ping and I can prove–”
“Silence!” Li Fong cried. “You will not dishonor the memory of our honorable brother with this pathetic display.” He motioned the Tong men to subdue the interloper.
As the men moved to comply with the order, a strange thing happened. As hatchet men reached for the grey giant they seemed to throw themselves to the ground all around him, and lie moaning in pain after barely seeming to touch him.
Through the chaos Dr. Shadows moved with implacable calm, a slight twitch of his shoulder or gliding sidestep as prelude to one of the thugs flying into the air to land across the room.
To most in the room, it was a display of legerdemain that they would remember for many years to come and tell their children and friends about. It seemed the wildest kind of magic, something from a wu shu myth.
A few in the vast chamber, Leo Chung among them, who were familiar with the martial arts, recognized it as an extraordinary example of the ancient and rarely seen Korean martial art of Sulsa Do.
It was the “Walking Ghost” technique. It allowed Dr. Shadows to make use of the momentum of his opponents and the angles of their attacks to keep them off balance and deflect them into each other or the floor with little or no effort. It allowed him to avoid being grabbed and to inflict pain on them without doing them any real harm.
In a few eyeblinks, the granite man stood between the two bound captives, his senses keenly aware of the two swordsmen at his flanks. His expression remained placid and unreadable.
“Do not tarnish the Tong’s honorable reputation with this heinous act of false retribution. False Justice is no justice at all,” the grey Goliath said. “I—”
“You have not earned the right to speak a protest at this gathering,” Li Fong said.
“I invoke the right of challenge,” Dr. Shadows said. “And it doing so I speak for the maligned Lee Han Ku.”
There was a collective gasp in the vaulted room, even the two Tong lords evidencing shock at the outrageous pronouncement.
The granite man’s response was to produce a small knife and cut the bonds of both women. He helped them to their feet. He gave a reassuring smile to each, and turned again to face the two Tong leaders with a determined look.
“You have no—” Li Fong began.
“So it comes to this—” Leo Chung interrupted in English. “It was bound to happen eventually, we were destined to bump heads to see who is top dog.” He laughed and began to loosen his tie. “ Okay, Pasty, like the man said, ‘its your funeral.’”
In Chinese Chung proclaimed, “I, Chung Lee Fu as leader of this assembly accept this man’s challenge in the name of the Jade Dragon Benevolent Society. His fate is now the same fate as that of the prisoners.”
A murmur of amazement rippled through the crowd as they realized they were about to see something even more amazing than the previous display and this contest would affect their lives directly as they witnessed a struggle for the controlling power of the Tong.
“Let a space be cleared,” Li Fong commanded after a long silent moment, with nod of his head. He leaned on his cane, suddenly looking very weary at the developments.
Dr. Shadows and his friends drew off to one side of the room under the watchful eyes of several hatchet men
“This is crazy, Anton, “ Hank whispered. “Even if you win they’ll kill you now to save face for the Tong, as well as us. It was better if you had stayed out of this and let us—”
“That’s not a very positive attitude,” the grey Goliath said with a grin. He stripped off his leather tunic and undershirt and emptied his pants pockets of anything that might encumber him. All his skin was the same ashen grey that on anyone else would have been a sign of unhealthy habits.
He looked like a stature come to life, no fat anywhere on his body, yet no bulge of unusable bulk like a body builder. Chelsea took the clothes and money from him with a brave but worried expression darkening her features.
“I’m in for a penny, in for a pound,” he said to calm Hank. When he saw that his statement did little to ease her fears, he flashed a relaxed smile and said, “I know having faith when your mind tells you one thing and your heart another is the hardest thing; I almost lost faith in you, pipsqueak, for which I deeply apologize. I’m here now because I found that faith again. So how about it, kiddo, game to do some cheerleading for this big lug?”
“I left my pom poms at home,” Hank said with an attempt at a smile, “but I’ll do my best.”
“That’s the spirit,” he said. “But just incase I’m not very talkative when this is done—” He leaned into Chelsea and whispered something in her ear. Her expression went from a worried frown to wide-eyed shocked.
Before she could make a comment though, a gong sounded somewhere in the hall, calling the combatants to step forward.
After the gong the room was as silent as the tomb.
Leo Chung was also stripped to the waist like the granite man, but wore a red satin sash that proclaimed his rank as a master of the Chinese martial arts.
The two men faced each other in the cleared space in front of the platform on which Li Fong stood.
“You both understand the consequence of this match?” Li Fong said in Cantonese. The two warriors nodded to the old doctor who continued, “the will of the Tong is for justice; the gods will determine the guilt or innocence of Lee Han Ku by showing who they favor here, our son or the champion of this woman.”
Both men nodded grimly.
“Then let the justice of the Tong be done and be seen to be done!”
The gong sounded again, its brass tones echoing off the marble walls with a new ominousness that caused all in the room to give a collective intake of breath. The combatants stepped into the middle of the cleared space.
The two men had the symmetrical perfection and natural grace of two great cats. Along the muscled back of Dr. Shadows, a network of fine scars and puncture wounds were visible, badges of honor that marked his career as a troubleshooter and champion of the underdog.
The grey Goliath assumed a relaxed posture, his knees bent, his hands open and palms down in preparation to respond to any attack.
Chung was a head shorter than the granite man and broader, though just as fit and muscular. He touched his right fist to his left open palm in martial salute and fell into a light-footed stance. Dr. Shadows acknowledged the gesture with a nod of his head.
The men locked eyes, two titans fighting a battle a thousand different ways in their minds. The audience watched carefully, observing a slight twitch of a muscle or flare of a nostril that denoted some projected attack or counter. All watching could feel the waves of energy that seemed to flow from the two warriors.
For a long moment the two remained frozen in this “dream warrior” state, fighting the battle to come in a thousand different ways while all in the room held their collective breaths.
Then, seemingly between eyeblinks, Chung attacked.
The Chinese surged forward with the fingers of his right hand pressed tightly together in a “cranes beak” strike. The fingertips moved with lightening speed with the intention of blinding Dr. Shadows.
The granite man seemed to just shrug his shoulders and turned his head a fraction of an inch, but it was enough to deflect the strike.
At the same time, he launched an open palm right hand that connected on the Tong lord’s chest with a sound like a gunshot.
Chung was driven back several feet with the impact, a reddening handprint on his chest.
A low murmur of mixed awe and disbelief sounded through the crowd. It had happened so swiftly that some had missed the actual contact between blinks.
Chelsea whispered “Way to go, Anton.” so quietly that only Hank heard her.
Hank let out a deep sigh and realized she had been holding her breath the entire exchange.
Leo Chung sprang back and his determined expression never changed beyond a slight nod that acknowledged “first blood” to the granite man.
There was another pause like the strange low pressure quiet before a twister strikes. Everyone could feel the premonition of the terror to come with the next confrontation.
The explosion came: the Tong lord attacked again, driving forward like a demon unleashed. He was a prodigy in the Chinese martial arts, a master of several styles of combat that sought to copy animal traits and predatory movements to deadly effect. Snake, monkey, dragon and the hybrid style of tiger/crane.
The Tong lord seemed inexhaustible. The watchers were awestruck by Chung’s skill. A finger raking tiger claw, a spinning dragon’s tail kick, each near perfect in technique, yet blocked at the absolute last second with a single deft move by the granite man. Soon bruises began to discolor his grey fore arms.
“Anton’s not attacking,” Hank said to Chelsea. “Why?”
“He’s fighting not just to win this match,” Chelsea said. “He has to win the crowd over; he can’t just be a big white guy beating up a Chinese guy, he has to show skill and maybe something more. It’s a dangerous way to play it.”
“When has he ever played it any other way?” Hank said with a touch of awe.
The assembled spectators soon came to realize his defensive fighting was not a statement of weakness but a demonstration of consummate skill.
Through it all Dr. Shadows face was a calm mask of concentration, his breathing regular. The Sulsa Do practiced by the grey Goliath had been developed and perfected by an unbroken line of masters for nearly two thousand years. It was as much an art of mental acuity as it was a means of physical perfection. It had no animal forms or showy embellishments in its practice like the Chinese’s forms.
The practicality of Sulsa Do was in conservation of energy and the ability to harness the inner spirit of the practitioner made it one of the deadliest of the worlds martial arts. Conversely, its main principle was to avoid doing harm whenever possible, to seek the peaceful solution as the first choice.
Unfortunately it was not always possible.
Chung launched a spearing hand at the granite man’s throat in an intended kill move. Snake-quick, Dr. Shadows caught the fingers of the hand with his right and twisted and yanked in a simultaneous move that dislocated Chun’s shoulder with an audible pop.
The grey Goliath then kicked the Tong lord’s legs from beneath him and when he hit the floor, knelt on his back.
Dr. Shadows pressed a thumb to a nerve center at the base of his opponent’s skull and proclaimed in a loud voice: “This fight is over; I have earned the right to speak.”
Stunned silence spread over the room and once the crowd recovered cheers erupted, Hank and Chelsea the loudest among them.
“Silence,” Li Fong said. “This contest is not decided.” He glared down at Dr. Shadows, pointing his cane at him and added, “You must end this conclusively this is a matter of life and death.”
“No,” Dr. Shadows said, “this fight is done!” He stepped off the fallen Tong lord and with a quick move popped the shoulder back into place. Chung gave a short sharp involuntary cry of pain but showed no sign of surrender or weakness.
“I undertook this contest so that the true murderer of the Honorable Wo Ping would be punished,” the granite man declared as he rose to his feet. Beside him, Chung struggled to his knees with a grimace of pain.
Dr. Shadows held out a hand to Chung who glared as him but accepted the hand to help the Tong lord to his feet.
“This is a serious accusation you make against Chung Lee Fu,” Li Fong said.
All eyes in the room focused on the exhausted Tong lord who stood beside the grey giant. Dr. Shadows saw them all look and shook his head.
“I make no accusation against this honorable and brave man; it was you, Li Fong, who killed Wo Ping and I can prove it.”